When I was a small child in church I got chills whenever we would recite the part of the Creed that proclaimed Jesus went to Hell. I wanted to crawl under the pew when I heard that line in a creed. Did the adults know what they were saying? Stop and listen to those words of the Apostles’ Creed: “He descended into hell. . . .”
What on earth did they mean by that?
It was not until the fifth decade of my life that I began to understand the line. And when I did it was for me an amazing moment of clarity.
The event called Holy Saturday is the fulcrum between Jesus’ death and his resurrection. On Holy Saturday, the second day of the Easter Triduum, Jesus smashes open the gates of Hell to let everyone out. On Holy Saturday, Jesus has suffered with us, gone to Hell, and robbed it of its power. Death is the enemy, and death is vanquished. The great mystery of Easter—the mystery of the Christian faith— requires Holy Saturday to get there. Holy Saturday connects the crucifixion of Good Friday to the resurrection of Easter. By grasping the reality of Holy Saturday, we can catch a glimmer of new life by passing first through death, whether it is the physical death at the end of our mortal life on earth, or in all of the little deaths we suffer on the journey of life.
The death of Jesus Christ on the Cross does not have much to do with us without Holy Saturday; without Holy Saturday, it is the unjust death of a good and holy man. With Holy Saturday, Jesus not only dies for us; Jesus dies with us and Jesus dies like us—he shows himself as the God-become-human savior to show us a different way to live. Easter becomes not just about the One, but about all of us.